After years of hearing about the life-changing benefits of yoga, including improved stamina, strength, flexibility, and even body image, I still had never gotten up the courage to try shaping my body into a pretzel (or a dog or cat or anything else un-human like). However, while on a recent vacation, I decided that I would step out of my proverbial comfort zone – the Marriott – and try something I have never done: I went to a full-fledged yoga studio.
I should probably explain that I have never before taken a “real” yoga class, at least not completed one. I don’t count the one class I attended at a gym a few years ago. Has someone’s voice ever grated on you so much that you thought you would rip your hair out? This was the situation with the instructor, and and I just had to get out of there fast (you understand, right?). Unfortunately, I left my clueless husband meditating on the floor, looking like a peaceful little Buddha. So what that I had dragged him along? He would understand that that Ms. Yogi Sunshine in there and I just didn’t mesh.
I hadn’t taken a yoga class since. Not out of disinterest, but out of becoming overly comfortable with my typical routine (consisting mostly of running) and a bit of fear that if I ran out of one more class, I would soon end up on some “no admit list” in every studio in the eastern United States.
But I decided that it was time to get back in the saddle and give yoga another shot. How hard could it be, really? Plus, I had been having a rough couple of weeks and figured I could use an hour or so of centering myself and getting back in tune with my body. My fears about falling on my face during downward dog would just have to be tackled head on, so to speak.
When I showed up at the studio, my intimidation factor spiked. The studio was located on the third floor of a posh-looking building in area that was clearly trendier than my five-year-old sneakers indicated I was. I looked down at what I was wearing with a bit of regret – a semi-tight-fitting tee-shirt and gym shorts – not exactly yoga attire.
Three other students milled around the waiting room sporting their adorable little lululemon outfits and carrying their mats in various soft colors. I didn’t even have with me the bright blue plastic mat I’d bought at Target a year ago in was one of those efforts to buy the equipment first, hoping the inspiration to use it would come later. (It didn’t.) The other students introduced themselves and all remarked about how long they had been practicing – six years minimum. Oh crap… I started to wonder whether this was really the beginner class I had thought it was.
After several minutes of waiting (I could tell that no one was quite as concerned with the time as I was), the teacher finally came out to gather us for the class. She took one look at me and said, “Oh. Hi. And where are you from? You haven’t been here before.” in a voice that whispered of condescension. It could have been my self-consciousness, but I’m still convinced it my gym shorts.
I replied somewhat sheepishly that no, I hadn’t been there. In fact, I’ve never really done yoga before.
“At all? Like… ever?”
“Nope!” I replied a little too eagerly.
Her eyebrows arched in a way that made me reach for my shoes to bolt out the door. But she stopped me and said, “Well, it’s an advanced class, but we’ll give it a shot. I won’t kick you out. Yet.” She smiled and I prayed that this was her not-so-cute sense of humor. How was I supposed to know the little “A” by the listing meant “Advanced?” I thought it meant it was for “Average” people. Like me.
We headed in to the studio room and I caught my breath. The studio was shaped in a large circle with windows on every wall overlooking the ocean. It was almost sunset and the effect was surreal. Okay, I thought, this is going to be just what I need – relaxing and rejuvenating. My fears started to subside. I was thrilled to get to reconnect with nature and myself.
All I seemed to reconnect with, however, was the floor. As soon as the class started, I realized I was in a bit over my head. The three other students were reaching over well beyond their toes as my own back made a loud cracking noise and my hands barely grazed my knees. What the hell I am doing here, I questioned.
Just as I was about to make this my second yoga walk-out, the instructor told us to set an intention for our practice. I quickly decided that my intention was to suspend judgment of myself during the next hour. I figured I tended to judge and put pressure on myself constantly, so I could commit to spending at least the next 60 minutes free of judgment. This was a turning point.
Over the next 55 or so minutes, whenever my mind would begin to fill with self-doubt, criticism at my own inflexibility, jealousy of the other students’ quick, fluid movements, and feelings of utter defeat, I would remind myself that I had committed to not judging myself. I decided that I could laugh at myself, but I could not judge. So I laughed. A lot.
As the teacher quickly (very quickly) moved through a series of poses, the names of which I only wish I could understand, much less recall, I desperately tried to keep up. I’d look to the other students as models, trying to conform my bodies to slightly resemble theirs. I was quickly dripping sweat, while the others looked cool, calm, and peaceful. I wanted to look cool, calm, and peaceful! Not like someone who was trying to run a marathon in Nevada in August. But I just laughed. No judgment, I repeated in my head.
When the teacher asked us to put our legs over our shoulders and support our entire weight with our hands, I really laughed. Like out loud. Kind of inappropriately. She looked at me and stated shortly, “Not you. Don’t try this.” As if she had to tell me… I started to feel embarrassed to be singled out, but then reminded myself of my no judgment rule and focused on the fact that I was grateful for a short breather. I collected my breath as I stood and watched the other students twist their bodies like acrobats.
When the class was (somewhat thankfully) over, I tried to sneak out quietly, hoping to preserve the last of my dignity. But I was caught by one of the other students who jogged up behind me. He patted me on the back and said with a warm smile, “Nice job in there! I never could have done that class when I was just starting out. Awesome!” I wasn’t sure if he was just being nice or genuinely thought my effort was commendable. But I decided it didn’t matter. I would suspend judgment for one more minute, say “thank you,” and give him my most relaxed, yogic smile.